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Policy Summary
In response to President Trump’s Executive Order 13873, Andrew Wheeler, Trump appointed Environmental Protection Agency administrator, announced the introduction of the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule that will replace the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan (CPP), which was stayed by the supreme court in 2016.

According to the EPA’s fact sheet, the ACE is comprised of two distinct acts: the repeal of the CPP, and the introduction of new emissions standards and guidelines for implementation on a state-by-state basis.

The explicit goal of these new regulations is to support energy affordability while gradually reducing emissions by transferring regulatory oversight of coal-energy from the Federal government to individual states. More stringent Federal regulations promised to reduce the number of coal fired plants whereas the EPA estimates that ACE will prolong the life-span of hundreds of coal-fired energy plants covered under more relaxed state regulation.

Citing the 2016 supreme court decision, Wheeler and the EPA under President Trump claim that the CPP was an overreach of the Agency’s jurisdiction in as much as it set unrealistic goals on individual states’ autonomy from the Federal level. Hence, the ACE is meant to address what it sees as an overreach of federal authority and to outline achievable and realistic goals.

The second part of the ACE is to set new regulatory guidelines for emission standards that are to be based on provisions introduced at the state level. States will have three years to submit plans for emissions regulation to be approved by the EPA. The ACE will replace overall emission reduction with what they call best system of emissions reduction (BSER); rather than reducing emissions, the ACE will focus on the most efficient technological improvements.

Policy Analysis
The EPA’s ACE regulation dilutes the impact of energy regulation by couching it in language that falsely implies sustainability vis-à-vis technological efficiency. In their recent press briefing, Wheeler and the EPA described their new regulations in a way that emphasizes the importance of technological efficiency as a means to reduce emissions while at the same time sustaining coal-fired energy.

This approach to energy regulation shares an important assumption with a theory known as ecological modernization (EMT), which believes that the optimal solution to climate change rests in improving the technological efficiency. Clearly the ACE follows EMT to the extent that it emphasizes technological improvements in lieu of reducing overall emissions.

The EMT and by proxy the ACE has its share of criticism. The main problem with the technological fixes proposed by ecological modernization is known as the treadmill of production. As processes become more efficient, production increases since less is needed to get more. In the context of EPA policy, the treadmill of production suggests that the ACE will lead to greater overall output of emissions since there will no longer be a regulation capping total emissions, only the machinery used in coal-fired plants.

Ecological modernization uses the language of environmental sustainability without committing to real change. Recently Masha Gessen wrote about a similarly empty use of language by the Trump appointed Director of Policy Planning at the State Department. In her article Gessen points out that developing policy around the hunches and intuition of the President problematically undermines the factual basis of policy. Hunch-based policies will not become fact-based by couching them in the language of the State Department. It is the separation of speech from the common world that undermines the power needed to create a stable political reality. It is the same in the case of the EPA’S new ACE rules. The federal agency continues to roll out environmentally damaging policies that fly in the face of scientific consensus, ignore factual reality, and attempt to conceal this by using the language of sustainability.

Resistance Resources:

  • Sierra Club – The Sierra Club has information linking to local chapters and information related to regional issues.
  • 5calls – This service provides you with easy access to the phone numbers of elected officials and provides you with speaking points about specfic issues. Climate change is one of the many subjects they have developed prompts for you to speak directly to representatives about important policy issues relating to climate change.
  • Citizens’ Climate Lobby – Get involved in a grass roots chapter working toward political solutions to climate change.
  • 350 – 350 is a climate action group that links to local organizations that are involved in fighting for a sustainable environment.
  • Green Peace – This site includes several different venues to engage in resistance movements.

Photo by RawFilm

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